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A new study finding variable nutritional quality of different plant foods highlights that not all plant-based options are “created equal” and that replacing meat consumption with whole plant foods is the best way to ensure a healthy diet. The research adds weight to the plethora of scientific evidence backing the health benefits of consuming a diet high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Presented at the European Society of Cardiology conference this year, which was held online, new research emerging from the Harokopio University in Athens, Greece finds that not all plant-based foods are equally healthy. The study investigated the link between the amount, type and quality of plant-based foods and cardiovascular health over the 10-year-period among over 140 participants who did not have any pre-existing chronic health conditions.
Over the decade, almost half of the individuals in the cohort had developed high blood pressure, high blood lipids and sugar levels, a combination that scientists describe as especially risky for heart health. In general, men who consumed more plant-based foods and less animal-based foods had a reduced risk of health status decline.
Our study highlights the variable nutritional quality of plant foods.Dr. Matina Kouvari
The researchers also found that consuming nutrient-dense high-quality plant based whole foods was associated with normal blood pressure, healthy blood lips and low blood sugar for both men and women.
“Healthy” plant food choices include unprocessed whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, olive oil and tea and coffee, whereas juices, potato chips, sweetened beverages, refined grains, sweets and traditional Greek desserts that are high in sugar were defined as “unhealthy” plant-based food choices.
“Our study highlights the variable nutritional quality of plant foods,” said Dr. Matina Kouvari, author of the study, in a press release.
“Eating less meat is beneficial for heart health, particularly when it is replaced with nutritious plant foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and olive oil,” added Kouvari, who emphasised that the singular action of ditching meat may not always be enough to translate to a better health status.
Eating less meat is beneficial for heart health, particularly when it is replaced with nutritious plant foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and olive oil.Dr. Matina Kouvari
Previous research has similarly found that consuming more whole plant foods is associated with better overall health. A recent study published in the British Medical Journal concluded a link between high intake of protein from plants such as legumes, whole grains and nuts to a lower risk of death from developing a number of diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Meanwhile, regularly consuming red meat and other animal proteins is associated with several health problems and higher mortality rate from all causes.
Another study, conducted by researchers from the National Cancer Institute in the U.S. and published in JAMA Internal Medicine provided evidence of an “inverse association” between higher consumption of plant-based foods and heart disease mortality rates. The most prominent inverse associations were recorded in the replacement of eggs and red meat with plant proteins.
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